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Stranded in the grocery store: how to avoid crashing while shopping

Wednesday 19 May 2010

CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Self-HelpThe CFIDS & Fibromyalgia Self-Help website has an article by Bruce Campbell about coping with grocery shopping:

Stranded in the Grocery Store: How to Avoid Crashing While Shopping

By Bruce Campbell

Have you ever been in a store and suddenly thought "I've run out of energy and I don't think I can finish" or "I feel like I'm about to faint"? That situation came up recently in our program and triggered an extensive discussion. The large number of messages on the topic suggest that this experience is far from unusual for people with CFS and FM.

The discussion was started by a person who, feeling weak in a grocery store, "just left the basket, got in my car and drove home." Several people responded by saying they had done the same thing. Others reported that when they feel weak and frightened, they try to calm themselves, and still others reported that they had overcome weakness by sitting down, either in the store or out in their car.

Most of the discussion, however, focused on prevention: things people do to avoid crashing while shopping. The strategies fit into five categories:

1) Using Electric Carts

The strategy mentioned most frequently by group members is to shop using a store-supplied electric cart or scooter. As one person said, "One thing that has helped me is to use the electric carts in stores that have them. I now frequent those stores, and avoid others." Another wrote, "I use the carts because they allow me to do so much more with my limited energy. It's like putting marbles into the jar instead of taking them out!"

2) Delegating & Other Labor-Saving Tricks

The second most common response was to pass responsibility for shopping to someone else, usually spelled h-u-b-b-y. People also mentioned getting help from store employees, such as grabbing hard-to-reach items and taking bags from the store to the car, or having family help with carrying bags from the car at home. A related strategy is to switch from in-person shopping to online shopping.

3) Planning, Rest & Other Pacing Strategies

A number of people reported carefully planning their shopping trips. Planning may include: 

  • writing out a list of items keyed to the layout of the store
  • setting a limit on the time to be spent in the store
  • checking one's energy level before leaving home
  • picking a time of day when the store won't be busy to limit sensory overload
  • going during a person's peak energy hours
  • limiting the number of other events before and after a shopping trip.

(For some people, a shopping trip may be the only out-of-house experience for a period of two or three days.)

People also mentioned using rest as part of their approach to shopping, employing it before, during and after. Resting before can take the form of lying down before leaving home or sitting in the car for a few minutes after arriving in the store parking lot. Rest during for some people means finding a place to sit down inside the store, either after a set length of time or because of feeling week. A chair, bench or a portable stool can be used. Others say that they sometimes return to their cars during a shopping trip, tilt the seat back and lie down or lie down in the back seat.

The key to avoiding a crash is to be sensitive to signs of a crash and to act quickly. In the words of one person, "I am vigilant about my body's signals. As soon as I feel that telltale weakness creeping into my limbs or that all-too-familiar nausea in my stomach, I start searching for a place to rest."

Rest after shopping can mean sitting or lying in the car for a while before driving home or lying down after returning home.

4) Food & Drink

Many people mentioned eating and staying hydrated as ways to avoid crashing. This can mean not leaving home on an empty stomach or eating/drinking during shopping. One person wrote, "When I run out of energy, I sit down with a glass of water." Another said, "I always carry a granola bar and some nuts in my purse, or buy something like string cheese to eat (sometimes when I check out I have just the empty wrapper and admit that I ate it while I was shopping)."

A third said about a shopping trip with her husband the previous day, "I wanted to go to one more store, but knew I couldn't in my present state. So, I stopped and got a protein drink and we sat in the car for a few minutes to see how I felt. Slowly, my extreme fatigue left and I was able to go into the store and get the things I needed."

Keeping well hydrated is also important for some people. One said, "I find that keeping hydrated is the most important thing for me. I usually end up drinking one of the drinks I'm buying so that keeps me going too!"

5) Treating Orthostatic Intolerance

Many people with CFS and FM have medical conditions that cause fainting. These include neurally mediated hypotension (NMH) and other forms of orthostatic intolerance. Treatments include increasing blood volume through the consumption of more fluids and salt, wearing support hose, avoiding long periods of standing, and using medications like Florinef. (For more on NMH and eight other medical problems often found with CFS and fibromyalgia, see the article Overlapping and Related Conditions.)

The article originally appeared here.


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